Monday, August 16, 2010

Everyone Should Get Off the Grid From Time to Time

I recently spent a week with friends riding my bike. This annual vacation has become a ritual for me as our team members from all over the country assemble for RAGBRAI. This gathering of cyclists is the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world. As I was riding this year I became increasingly aware of the impact that technology has had on even this very low tech event. And it is not all positive.

For sure mobile phones have made keeping track of our team members much easier. Almost ten years ago when I first started riding in this event we were using walkie-talkies to keep track of the team. We shared the same channels with thousands of other riders. The cacophony of conversations made any meaningful contact with one another the exception. Cell phones changed that. Cell phones are a good thing. Other high tech tools using GPS technology now allow medical assistance to be dispatched much more efficiently. If you are waiting on the side of some country road for the EMT to arrive, you would agree that this too is a good thing.

Not all of this technology appeals to me. Riding along it was often the case that the peaceful quiet of the countryside was pierced by the sound of a fellow rider’s cell phone demanding to be answered. More often than not it was not a call from a team member looking to meet up. Rather, the conversations centered on the most recent crisis at the office. Protracted conversations about a client’s complaint, a machine’s failure, or a boss’s demands punctuated the otherwise awesome ride.

Here on the rural roads of Middle America was playing out a wonderful example of why all of us need to sometimes get off the grid. I tried hard this year to refrain from checking my office voice mail or using my smart phone for checking office email. Other than calling my wife and sharing some details of the ride, I stayed out of touch.

The always-connected society in which we live has made the work day 24/7. While some would argue that this has increased productivity, others point out that it has exacted a high price in elevated stress. With a world economy and business environment making local time almost irrelevant, many of us do need to modify our schedules and technology has made this possible. But there is a time to just say “No” …to turn it all off.

The next time you go on vacation, for a day or a few weeks, think about leaving the lap top off, the cell phone on mute and your voice greeting message indicating that you are unreachable. To be sure, if you win the lottery or President Obama wants your advice on some pressing world issue, there are ways to find you.

Added 8/24 Here is a great NPR story relating to this issue

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